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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, October 26

Geneticists Develop New Model for Ancient Human Relationships

VANCOUVER, CANADA—ABC News Australia reports that statistical geneticist Ryan Bohlender of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and his team developed a new computer model to evaluate the possible relationships among the ancestors of modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. The tool varied estimations of population size and dates for when the populations stopped interbreeding, and accounted for inconsistencies in previous studies of genomes of modern and archaic humans. The analysis suggests that interbreeding occurred both within and outside of Africa, that the early population in Africa was 50 percent larger than had been thought, and that modern humans diverged from the family tree some 440,000 years ago. The study also suggests that the different populations may have interbred less frequently than previously thought, and in similar numbers in Europe and in East Asia. (It had been suggested that interbreeding occurred more frequently in East Asia.) And, according to Bohlender, Melanesians may carry a small amount of DNA from an unidentified, extinct human species. Future computer simulations will add additional populations into the mix to see how they affect the results. For more, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Ritual Use of Cave Lions May Have Contributed to Their Extinction

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—Cosmos reports that human hunters may have contributed to the extinction of Panthera spelaea, the Eurasian cave lion, some 14,000 years ago. Marian Cueto of the Universidad de Cantabria and her team examined nine lion claws, or phalanxes, recovered in La Garma, a cave in northern Spain associated with human rituals during the Upper Paleolithic period. They found cut marks and signs of scraping on the bones similar to the ones made by modern hunters when they skin an animal in a way that keeps the claws attached to the pelt. The researchers add that the locations of the bones on the cave floor suggest that the pelt may have been used as a floor covering. For more on the relationship between ancient people and cats, go to “Baby Bobcat,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Ancient Beverage Brewed in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—NPR reports that archaeologist Bettina Arnold of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her research team worked with Lakefront Brewery to try to re-create an alcoholic beverage that had been placed in a bronze cauldron and buried in a grave sometime between 400 and 450 B.C. in what is now Germany. The recipe was based upon the research of paleobotanist Manfred Rösch, who analyzed the residues in the Iron Age cauldron. He found evidence of honey, meadowsweet, barley, and mint—ingredients in a type of beverage known as a braggot. The experimental mixture took seven hours to make. It was then left to ferment for two weeks, producing a smooth drink with an herbal, minty taste. “I don’t think people would be interested in purchasing it to drink,” commented Chris Ranson of Lakefront Brewery. To read about another find from the same time period, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.


More Headlines
Tuesday, October 25

What Motivated the Violent Burials of the Sonoran Desert?

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that James Watson and Danielle Phelps of the University of Arizona examined unusual burials dating to the beginning of the agricultural period in the Sonoran Desert, around 2100 B.C. When a body was buried on its side, with its arms crossed and knees bent, the person is thought to have been buried with the respect of the community. But sometimes, bodies were tumbled headfirst into graves, with bones broken and limbs splayed. Watson and Phelps suggest that as people moved into settled communities and attempted to establish control over farming territories, tensions between different groups may have turned into feuds lasting generations. These tensions may be reflected in the violent deaths and disrespectful burials. Watson speculates that desecrating the corpse of an enemy may have been a way to gain prestige, but it also could have increased the risk of retaliation. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Sixth-Century Swords Discovered in Japan

EBINO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that two swords have been recovered from a sixth-century A.D. tomb on the island of Kyushu. One of the weapons, which has a wooden pommel, would have measured about 60 inches long and is said to be the longest sword ever found in an ancient tomb in Japan. The opening of its scabbard was covered with a valuable textile. The hilt of the other sword, which has a pommel decorated with silver, is covered with ray skin. It is said to be the oldest such item found in East Asia, and may have been made in the Paekche kingdom, on the Korean Peninsula. “The swords suggest there was a powerful person in southern Kyushu, who would have directly served someone in the upper rank close to the Yamato king, and would have gone overseas in charge of foreign politics,” said researcher Tatsuya Hashimoto of Kagoshima University Museum. The tomb has also yielded armor, horse harnesses, and human remains. To read about the discovery of another sword, go to “Viking Trading or Raiding?

Photogrammetric Models Made of Black Sea Shipwrecks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND— reports that the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project found more than 40 Byzantine and Ottoman shipwrecks during geophysical surveys of the Black Sea seabed along the Bulgarian coast. Many of the hulls, masts, tillers, and other features of the ships are well preserved, due to the low oxygen levels in the deep waters. Principal investigator and University of Southampton marine archaeologist Jon Adams and his team of researchers recorded information about the ships with laser scanners, and they took thousands of high-resolution photographs and videos of the shipwrecks with remotely operated vehicles. The images were then assembled with photogrammetry to build 3-D models of the shipwrecks. To read about another archaeological project involving photogrammetry, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

Monday, October 24

Great Basilica Yields Medieval Fresco Fragment

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that archaeologists excavating the northern nave of the Great Basilica in Plovdiv have uncovered a fragment of a medieval painting thought to depict Peter, the Christian saint. The original church on the site had been located in the center of the ancient city of Philippopolis, and dates to the beginning of the fifth century A.D. The structure is thought to have been destroyed by invaders in the sixth century. Eighteen medieval burials, including the remains of children and a possible priest, were recently found resting on the original building’s mosaic floors. The excavators think the fine quality of the medieval fresco suggests it was probably part of a mural painted in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries by a master from Constantinople. The excavation team also found a donor inscription near the mural, written in Greek, bearing the name “Avram.” For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Plants Found in Northwestern China

BEIJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that 13 Cannabis plants were discovered covering a man’s body in a 2,500-year-old burial located in the large Jiayi cemetery in arid northwestern China. About 35 years old at the time of death, the man was placed on a wooden bed with a reed pillow. The root-ends of the Cannabis plants were placed over his pelvis, so that the leaves reached his chin on the left side of his face. Hongen Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his team suggest the burial occurred in the late summer, since the plants bore immature fruit. They also suggest that the lack of hemp clothing and rope in the burial, and the large size of the plants’ seeds, indicate that they were grown for their psychoactive properties. Pottery from the cemetery suggests that it belonged to the Subeixi culture of the Turpan Basin. Processed Cannabis flowers were found in another Subeixi graveyard in 2006. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Child’s Rattle Unearthed in Siberia

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that a child’s toy has been unearthed at the site of a Bronze Age settlement in Siberia. The 4,000-year-old rattle was made by sealing small stones in clay shaped as a bear’s head. Archaeologist Vyacheslav Molodin of the Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the Russian Academy of Sciences explained that the artifact will be X-rayed to try to determine what kind of stones were used to make the rattle. He added that the rattle is believed to bear a stamp including a drawing made when the clay was still wet. The settlement has also yielded a figurine shaped like a bird that may have been used as an incense stand. For more, go to “Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude.”